P L A C E / asia
I met Pari during my yoga teacher training in Agonda, India back in October 2016. She had recently married her bestfriend, Nick, that September at home in the UK and together had decided to embark on the mother of all honeymoons starting in India. Their journey so far has taken them on to Nepal, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Kuala Lumpar, Bali & the Gilli Islands and the Philippines. Up next...Taiwan, Hong Kong and finally Sri Lanka.
I asked if she would share some of her stories from her happiest of places in Asia (so far) and thankfully she willingly obliged.
How to even begin to choose my five happy places in Asia?! I have so many to choose from because I've been incredibly lucky over the past six months to travel around India, Nepal and South East Asia with my new hubby. Don't get me wrong, travelling isn't all fun and games; there are times when you feel low from lack of sleep, time chasing, beige food, and of course there are those times when you really miss your family and friends back home. Thankfully, the good always outweighs ‘the not so good’, and our journey across many lands in recent months has been out of this world.
I've chosen the following places because I seem to refer to them when people ask about our travelling highlights and I often dream about them during long bus journeys or during those moments when things aren’t going as well as planned and we are having to navigate a curveball! Most of all, these stories of places and people are my bubbles of happy that will be remembered, always keeping me afloat as I sail through life with the love of my life.
It’s no great secret that the trekking in Nepal is amazing! Even if you get injured (like I did - a story for another time!) you will still walk away from your experience wide eyed, bushy tailed and so full to the brim of happiness you'll be talking about it for days, weeks and months afterwards. The views are out of this world incredible and the challenge is real, you'll be blowing the entire way up but it's so worth it when you get to each little tea house village in the mountains and bed down for the night.
My favourite mountain town is called, Chommrung (and my first chosen 'happy place'). The reveal of the town is breathtaking! After walking down hundreds of steps, past horses wearing embroidered crowns, the teahouses create a frame for the view ahead; two glistening mountain peaks being kissed by the sun.
It was also relatively warm up there! I mean, temperatures obviously fell below zero during the night but in the afternoon it was t-shirt weather as we would say back home in England. The mountains almost trap the sun and air between them creating a blanket of heat over the town.
At night when it does get cold, the teahouse owners create the perfect retreat where gas heaters are placed in deep holes under the tables. Evenings were spent eating a full on carb-load meal whilst your tired, heavy legs are kept toasty and warm - it's just so delicious!
There is also a cute little souvenir shop where you can buy locally knitted goods, a bakery and lots of places to just sit and relax with a hot lemon and ginger tea.
Utopia bar, Laos
The owners of Utopia bar in Luang Prabang have just got it bang on and that's why I've chosen this as my second happy place.
During the day it's the best place to chill, take in the river views, read a book, eat nice food or do some yoga. The journey to get there is a treat in itself, cycling down a tiny street lined with flowerpots and trinkets. On arrival, cool interiors greet you – think bamboo verandas, Thai-style cushions, lighting made from recovered UXOs, and thoughtfully placed palm trees for shade.
There's a full menu of delicious treats from pizzas to amazing salads and healthy juices. You can also get hold of great and reasonably priced plonk too - I had the BEST G&T I've had since being in Asia! Maybe it was the view of the river that added to the awesomeness of the first sip, I'm not sure, what I do know is that we sat there for hours relaxing, talking and playing cards.
At night Utopia changes gear and it almost feels like stepping into a completely new place. Nick discovered a candlelit volleyball court so I lost him for a good few hours. The place came alive with great people to talk to and so many twinkling fairy lights to get lost in.
Utopia bar really is a little piece of pleasure.
Myanmar (just all of it)
We were constantly happy in Myanmar. It's unlike anywhere we'd ever been before. It feels relatively untouched, and the people are just so nice. We were only there for two weeks but in that time we had the most incredible adventures.
We hiked up to the top of Mount Zwegabin and stayed in a monastery; a humbling experience with nothing but a wooden bed to sleep on, veggies to eat and the sound of monks chanting to listen to. I practised yoga at dawn with a crowd of monkeys watching over me. It was a place where we, still to this day, witnessed both the best sunrise and most breath-taking sunset.
We took pushbikes out at dawn in Bagan, climbed to the top of a temple and watched the sunrise become littered with hundreds of hot air balloons. Magic.
We walked through China Town in Yangon, along streets littered with fish heads and chicken guts, through street-side showers and people selling the weirdest of vegetables. At night we drank beer with the locals and played a homemade version of POGS with street kids.
We took a motorcycle around Mandalay and visited a vast collection of glinting temples tucked into the mountains. We met a monk in a monastery who gave us an introduction into his life and the workings of Buddhist teachings.
We went on an amazing trek from Kilaw to Inle Lake, which took us through chilli farms and turmeric fields, through pine forests and across desert valleys. We got invited to a village wedding and drank tea with the locals. We finally arrived at Inle Lake on a long tail boat, sailing into the sunset with a seagull flying directly next to us.
So many moments in Myanamr, so much happiness!
The motorcycle loop, Vietnam
Hiring your own motorcycle in Vietnam is kind of a given, everyone does it. Lots of travellers even buy a bike and take it from one end of the country to the other and then sell it at the end. I was a little nervous about doing this because I'm still a bit of a pillion novice! (Read: ‘I can't drive...’) But, we really didn't want to leave Vietnam without experiencing the thrill of it, so we hired a bike in Nha Trang, and drove a loop to Dalat - Mue Nei and back again.
It was honestly one of the most liberating and fun experiences of my life. I don’t think we had never felt so free. Nothing beats driving the windy roads of the mountains, feeling the air switch from warm to cool as you climb and stopping on a cliff edge to take in the views. It was a real trek, with about six hours (!!!) of driving every day. We would take regular breaks at dusty roadside cafes, eating cheap Pho and drinking tea.
Over four days we had such an adventure, I truly experienced what it was like to get out of your comfort zone and the rewards were gratefully received. I felt completely liberated which is why it will always be remembered as a moment when I was most happy.
Letting nature lead in Cambodia
Cambodia is a lush green country and there is huge opportunity to feel at one with nature here. I've realised since being away actually, that I am truly happy when surrounded by nature. The following two places allowed us to be totally immersed in nature for a few days which is why I’ve chosen them as my final happy places.
Kampot is a rustic town set on the banks of a river. The town itself isn't that much of a marvel, but the further you go along the river the more you are exposed to the natural beauty of the place.
We stayed at an amazing place called Eden Echo Village, which was a bit more flashpacker than backpacker, but after weeks of hostels, we thought we'd treat ourselves.
The rooms are built on stilts on the river, they're all made of bamboo and have gorgeous private verandas. Each room has a massive bed, hammock and coconut shower. If having the river to gawp at isn't enough there's a collection of mountains and lush green trees directly ahead on the horizon.
We were so in love with the room we stayed there almost all day every day, hardly moving aside from when I practised yoga on the veranda, when we went for a mini stroll and swam in the river. We ate the most nourishing food, which was both organic and wholesome; bread, cheese, curries, and fruit. Three days later we left feeling balanced and happy. I learnt the valuable lesson that just three days with nature (and nothing else) is sometimes all you need.
Koh Tonsay, otherwise known as Rabbit Island, was another place in Cambodia where we just hung out with nature and left feeling completely reset.
It's a small but perfectly formed island about 20 minutes from Kep. There are no frills and you really get that castaway experience most backpackers crave. It's the perfect getaway for a day or two. There's nothing to see on the island apart from sandy beaches, the blue sea, a few chickens and ducks, some dogs and palm trees. There's no wifi and you only get electricity between 1800-2200 at night. It's a place to just be with a hammock and a great book.
One night we were treated to the most magical display of glowing plankton. Just the two of us went swimming at night under the moon. When we swam under the water we held hands and moved together through the natural twinkles; it was like swimming among the stars in the sky!
These once in a lifetime touches with nature make me feel completely happy and when I'm back in the concrete jungle I know I'll dream about them.
Thank you, Pari, for sharing some of your inspiring, happy moments in happy places with us! I feel ready more than ever for another adventure! You can follow Pari and Nick on the rest of their honeymoon on Instagram and on their blog.
If you would like to share some of your happy places here on my blog then comment below or visit the ‘contact’ page.